In the aftermath of her surprisingly poor showing in last week's 6th District primary, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell said she views herself as the underdog in the June 2 runoff against Venice activist Ruth Galanter.
Russell had the most votes overall but was beaten by Galanter in Westchester and Venice, two of the largest communities in the sprawling 6th District. The 63-year-old councilwoman said that she plans to reevaluate every aspect of her campaign in the days ahead.
"I am cleaning the slate and looking at every possibility," Russell said. "What bothers me is how to put across the information and the message."
Some City Hall observers called Russell's primary campaign amateurish and incompetent. Russell conceded that she failed to get her message across. She needed one vote more than 50% to avoid a runoff, but netted only 42%. The remainder was split among Galanter, who received 29%, and the other four challengers.
"I thought that we had a chance to pull it off in the primary," Russell said. "But I knew that chances were good that there would be a runoff."
Galanter said she was surprised that Russell, an 18-year council veteran twice elected council president, would describe herself as the underdog. The urban planner, who ran as a staunch opponent of the kind of commercial development that has occurred under Russell, called the councilwoman a formidable foe.
But Galanter added that she is confident of sustaining the momentum that carried her into the runoff, especially if people view Russell as vulnerable.
"One woman came into my campaign headquarters today and told me that she didn't vote (Tuesday) because she didn't think I could win," Galanter said. "Now that they see it's possible, there may be more people who will vote."
Galanter hopes that her showing at the polls will also give her a financial boost in the district that includes Venice, Westchester, Mar Vista and the Crenshaw area. She said she wants to raise $100,000 for the runoff. In the primary, she accumulated only $50,000, compared to Russell's $300,000.
"People said the amount of money we spent in the primary was not enough for a serious campaign," said Galanter, an environmentalist and former chairwoman of the California Regional Coastal Commission. "But we showed that with committed volunteer support, it was enough. Now, because time is short, we need more."
Galanter is expected to be endorsed by the four challengers who were eliminated in Tuesday's primary--Rimmon C. Fay, Salvatore Grammatico, Patrick McCartney and Virginia Taylor Hughes. Galanter said that she also expects to rely heavily on volunteer supporters manning telephone banks and canvassing.
Both candidates see voter turnout as critical. Less than 23% of the 6th District voters turned out Tuesday. Russell said that she would have avoided a runoff if all her supporters had voted. She said that she would work to increase voter turnout in the coming election.
Russell said she would also try to allay fears about development, the key issue in the campaign because of her support of four major building projects around Westchester--the Howard Hughes Center, Playa Vista, Continental City and the north-side expansion of Los Angeles International Airport. The councilwoman said she was "battered" in the primary by accusations that she is a pawn of developers. She said that she has actually contained growth in the district.
"People think that there's all this development in Westchester right now," Russell said. "And there's no question that it played on people's normal and rational fears. So the basic problem is getting the truth out."
Russell expects to work especially hard in her home town of Westchester. The predominantly white homeowner community gave Russell 18% of its vote, compared to more than 50% four years ago. Galanter received 38% of Westchester's vote.
Russell will also try to shore up her support in Venice. The racially mixed beach community has traditionally been anti-Russell, and she received only 15% of Venice's support Tuesday. Galanter was far ahead with 56% of the vote.
Russell's strongest area is Crenshaw. The councilwoman received 71% in that community, which is predominantly black. Galanter got 7% of the vote there.
Russell said that she has not fully formulated her campaign strategy. But some observers said they would be surprised if Russell does not try to portray Galanter as a radical with strong left-wing ties in the Venice-Santa Monica area.
Galanter said that some members of the media have already made the connection. "What they seem to be looking for is whether I am a clone of Tom Hayden," Galanter said, referring to the Santa Monica assemblyman and 1960s anti-war activist. "I explain that I am not a member of Hayden's organization and never have been."